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Zacchaeus and Parihaka

November 1, 2013

Luke 19: 1-10

A guy called D A Carson once began a sermon like this:

I would like to buy about three quid’s worth of gospel please. Not too much – just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted. I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust; I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture. I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation. I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races – especially if they smell. I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected, or my giving too greatly enlarged.

I would like about three quid’s worth of gospel please.

Of course none of us is so crass as to put it that way. But most of us have felt the temptation to opt for a domesticated version of the gospel.

Zacchaeus: the story of someone who got more than three quid’s worth of gospel.

It’s interesting that there are two stories about Tax Collectors in close succession in Luke’s gospel. One came up last Sunday (but Jason didn’t preach from the lectionary). It was about a Tax Collector who prayed and a religious person who went into the Temple to improve his self-esteem.

Today’s Tax Collector, Zacchaeus, is a big wig among Tax Collectors. He’s a chief Tax Collector… It’s important to get this. Tax Collectors are despised. They have sold their soul to the devil. They work for the Roman overlords. They collect from the poor to pay the rich and line their own estate in the process.

Jesus just loves to take the hated ones and make them the stars of the stories – and in his everyday life to make them his friends.

In the first story about the two men who pray, it is the Tax Collector who is the one who knows how to pray. Rather than protecting himself, he brings all his dirty washing to God. He somehow knows what the presence of God is all about and he goes there knowing his need, his great need of help, change, mercy, salvation. He knew what it meant to pray.

And it’s like Luke has chosen to include a story of another Tax Collector in the following chapter to take us a step forward. If the first story is about the inner character of prayer. In the second story we learn what prayer looks like when it is lived out – when the rubber of prayer hits the road of everyday life.

Zacchaeus is short and he climbs a tree to see (so begins the psycho-drama of a thousand sermons and Sunday School lessons). But I think the real drama of this story begins with Jesus’ response to this. Jesus acts the fool. The crowd agrees what Jesus does is stupid. Jesus chooses to go to the home of the badly-behaved hated person. “Why would he encourage someone like that? It’ll just make Zacchaeus feel more important. Why reward bad behaviour?” Nowadays we would be worried that the media would get a hold of it. That it would send the wrong message, right? Which of us would accept a meal invitation from the local brothel or marijuana house?

Jesus doesn’t accept an invitation, he initiates friendship. “Come down Zacchaeus! I’m going to your place today.”

Justice does not come through being treated in accord with the way he has behaved (i.e. badly). Justice comes through being befriended at the meal table. The meal table is the place of true justice. It’s the place where relationships are restored rather than where people get what they deserve

It’s striking that it’s Zacchaeus’s home, but Jesus invites himself. He doesn’t wait to be invited. Jesus turns the tables on Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus’s table suddenly becomes Jesus table. Not by an act of violence but by an invitation. Jesus effectively creates the space for hospitality, even though it isn’t his space originally. Jesus sneaks under Zacchaeus’s guard and makes a home visit. Zacchaeus’s big flash house becomes Jesus space of hospitality and friendship.

The local villagers fear that to do such a thing, to give a Tax Collector the dignity of a home visit, will only encourage him in his bad behaviour. But in fact the opposite is the case. Grace produces, not licence but repentance.

Zacchaeus doesn’t beat about the bush “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything I will pay back four times as much.” …That is one of the great lines of the NT.

To which Jesus replies: “Today Salvation has come to this house.” Salvation does house calls. Zacchaeus (the bad man) got it. He didn’t want ‘three quid’ of gospel for his own improvement. His was a new life.

All because Jesus chose to embrace the enemy… And Zacchaeus then ended up embracing those he had harmed.

On November the 5th we celebrate Parihaka day in NZ, or at least we should celebrate it. For some reason we tend to do Guy Fawkes instead. There’s one element of the story which always sticks in my mind. For those not completely familiar with the Parikaha story. It is the great story of NZ’s own non-violent resistance, NZ’s equivalent of Gandhi. At a time when the colonial government was busy stealing land, hand over fist, a group of Maori in the Taranaki region lead by Te Whiti o Rongomai and Tohu Kakahi had come to believe that the violence was incompatible with following Jesus. So they began a campaign of non-violent resistance. They snuck out at night and pulled out the surveyors pegs. They ploughed land ahead of the govt agents… and so on. But the bit of the story that always inspires me is that on the day the government decided to send in the troups … the children greeted them with poi dances and the women of the village baked bread for them and invited them to eat.

The enemy was invited to table, the invitation was there. This time there was no Zacchaeus moment. The people of Parihaka had chosen what ended up being the way of the cross. The village was burnt down, the women raped, many killed and men taken off into exile, imprisoned in Lytelton harbour and given hard labour building roads in Dunedin.

This is our history of Zacchaeus … with no conversion. The table was set but Zacchaeus didn’t come to the party.

In the bible the story ended well for Zacchaeus… not financially well, but well. He gave half his possessions to the poor and paid back those he had damaged with 4 times as much. … and that day salvation came to his house.

Perhaps salvation is still coming to the house of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Perhaps those who have heard the news of salvation’s arrival are choosing instead to opt for “three quids worth of gospel”.

Salvation is still coming to this house.

Thanks be to God.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 1, 2013 11:33 pm

    wonderful link with Parihaka – nice work Bruce!

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